The House Committee on Natural Resources held a subcommittee hearing on May 5 dealing with passage of a wilderness bill that would close snowmobile trails, according to the Blue Ribbon Coalition.

"Organizations with diverse interests who, in the past, have been at odds with each other (wilderness advocates, wildlife and fisheries groups, mountain bikers, snowmobilers, timber companies, mill owners and ranchers) are working collaboratively with the Forest Service to resolve differences and come to agreement on the best approach to national forest management. This bill would, unfortunately, shortcut much of this collaboration and collective ownership of solutions," said Joel Holtrop, Deputy Chief for the National Forest System, at the hearing.

The Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act (NREPA), also known as H.R. 980, has sparked grassroots opposition to legislation which would limit recreational access to public lands by deeming them federal wilderness lands.  

"Our phone has been ringing off the hook and our email in-boxes are flooded," said Greg Mumm, Blue Ribbon Coalition's Executive Director. "The recent flurry of Wilderness bills being proposed and/or signed into law has raised a red flag in the access community.  Widespread opposition to the massive Wilderness bill is rising among individuals, groups and local governments across the West."
 
H.R. 980, first introduced in 1993 by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY),  would designate 24 million acres of Wilderness across five Western states, (Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington, and Wyoming). 

"Under this bill, the 2 million acres open for snowmobile use on the Bridger Teton would decrease to only 712,830 acres. Our analysis also indicates that summer off-road motorized recreational acreage would decrease from our current 1.7 million acres to only 646,091 acres," said Joel Bousman a Sublette County commissioner from Wyoming at the hearing.

"Sublette County, Wyoming, appears to be putting all its eggs into the oil-soaked baskets of drilling and motorized recreation. But if Sublette County doesn’t protect its other basket of abundant natural beauty and the wildlife a healthy ecosystem supports, its residents may wake up one day, as some communities have, to find the providers of short-term abundance gone and their sustainable abundance lost," said Carole King Klein, resident of Idaho and singer / pianist.

Brian Hawthorne, BRC's Public Lands Policy Director, speculated that NREPA was moving up as a priority for recreation advocacy groups, including mountain bike and sporting conservation groups, perhaps because the growing influence of the green lobby on decision-makers in Washington DC. 

"We don't know if the Wilderness lobby really thinks Congress will let eastern politicians draw lines on maps around lands they've never seen, or if this is a strategic ploy to make smaller scale proposals seem reasonable by comparison. Either way, the recreating public should be on high alert," observed Hawthorne.

BRC is urging its members to contact their legislators and express opposition to the passage of NREPA and has provided a portal on their website to easily contact legislators. http://www.sharetrails.org/rapid_response/

The Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands hearing was only held to learn more about the bill and no decisions were made at the hearing, said a House Committee of Natural Resources' press representative.

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